Posted April 20, 2020
We hope that this letter finds you safe and healthy. The past few weeks have been overwhelming for all of us. In this time of anxiety and uncertainty, many of us have found great comfort in our virtual Central community – from Rabbi Buchdahl’s morning meditations to the afternoon “Coffee with Clergy” sessions to our livestream Shabbat services to calls and texts and emails among congregants.
We write to you now to share the continuing work of Central in Action and to let you know that our efforts are more important than ever in the face of this unprecedented crisis. Below are some updates on our social justice initiatives and opportunities for you to engage in some of our work.
“Turn on the TAP” Campaign
At the request of the campaign leader College & Community Fellowship, we have put the “Turn on the TAP” campaign – to reinstate New York’s Tuition Assistance Program for men and women earning college degrees while incarcerated – on temporary pause and have turned toward advocating for the health of incarcerated people, corrections officers, and the public in the shadow of Covid 19.
Coronavirus Public Health Advocacy
We are adapting our advocacy efforts in this critical public health emergency to voice our support for the release of some of New York’s most vulnerable residents.
Beyond Central in Action Advocacy, Central Synagogue is also supporting direct services linked to criminal justice:
Partnership with Hudson Link
We are reaching out with letters of solidarity and support to the men and women earning the college degrees with Hudson Link while incarcerated in NY State. Learn more and register here.
Partnership with Exodus Transitional Community
We are buying supplies for men and women who are being released from Rikers Island, the principal New York City jail, with only the shirts on their backs. You can help support their work here, and learn more about it when Rabbi Haber speaks with Pastor Jose Humphreys of ETC on April 21 at 3:30 pm.
• Rabbi Hilly Haber speaks with Pastor Jose Humphreys of Exodus Transitional Community in Spotlight NYC on April 21 at 3:30 pm. Register here.
• Panel discussion on April 28 at 7:00 pm featuring Max Kenner, the founder of the Bard Prison Initiative, and graduates of the BPI program.
We look forward to learning more together in our quest to help make New York a more just and equitable state. If you are interested in joining Central’s justice email list, or if you would like to speak with a member of Central In Action to learn more, please email Chelsea Werde at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wishing you health and safety in this time,
Mari Hinojosa and Sherry King (Co-Chairs, Central in Action)
Amy Glickman (Chair of Central in Action’s TAP Campaign)
Rabbi Hilly Haber (Director of Social Justice Organizing & Education)
Coronavirus Public Health Advocacy
As part of a broad public health outcry that includes the Ford Foundation, the Charles & Lynn Schusterman Foundation, the Vera Institute of Justice, the Legal Aid Society, New York State district attorneys, the New York City Board of Correction, and many other highly respected nonprofit organizations and public officials, Central in Action is adapting our advocacy efforts in this critical public health emergency to voice our support for the release of some of New York’s most vulnerable residents to protect the public health and the health of corrections officers and incarcerated people in jails and prisons around our State. In particular, we are advocating for the release of those who are incarcerated on technical parole violations, elderly or immuno-compromised, or at or near the end of their sentences (eligible or soon to be eligible for parole).
None of these incarcerated people were sentenced to die, but Covid 19 risks changing the reality for those in jails and prisons. Numerous credible reports are that soap, masks, and gloves are often unavailable or unattainable and social distancing is impossible. Thousands of people, according to the Vera Institute of Justice, are in jails and prisons who are scheduled for release within the next year, who are in jail although they have not committed a new crime (only a technical violation such as missing a curfew), or who are medically vulnerable. Their release would present a low risk of recidivism at a time when most people are sheltering in place as much as possible and the local crime rate is reportedly decreasing.
Central in Action co-wrote, circulated, and presented to Governor Cuomo a letter signed by 78 interfaith clergy and lay leaders, and signed onto a similar letter circulated and presented by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) criminal justice coalition. Our representatives are also communicating with Governor Cuomo’s senior staff by email and Zoom call on this critical public health and criminal justice issue.
Helping New Yorkers Out of Confinement
During our holiday of freedom from slavery and oppression, we have an opportunity to extend our hands to men and women who are currently coming out of confinement on Rikers Island, released with only the shirts on their backs. Our friends at Exodus Transitional Community (ETC) are working hard to provide essential supplies to these individuals as they return to a very different city than the one they left. You can help ETC in this work by purchasing items from their Amazon Wishlist.
Panel discussion on April 28 featuring Max Kenner, the founder of the Bard Prison Initiative, and graduates of the BPI.
We invite you to use this time to learn more about the experience of people behind bars in New York State, and are delighted to invite you to a panel discussion on April 28 at 7:00 pm featuring Max Kenner, the famed founder of the Bard Prison Initiative, and graduates of the BPI. Register for the discussion here.
The BPI is a groundbreaking program that gives men and women in New York State prisons an opportunity to earn a college degree while behind bars. You can learn more about their work through a new documentary, College Behind Bars, a four-part series currently streaming on PBS, Netflix, and Amazon Prime. We encourage you to watch the series in advance of our conversation. Link to films: https://bpi.bard.edu/college-behind-bars/
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